Lahore, Pakistan – After violent protests alleging pre-poll manipulation, a suspension of cellular service and bomb blasts that killed at the very least 9 folks, Pakistan's twelfth common election was declared closed.
The Election Fee of Pakistan (ECP) mentioned the counting of votes started shortly after the polls closed on Thursday night. The outcomes are anticipated to begin arriving in a single day.
Three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is taken into account the frontrunner.
Sharif spoke to the media after his vote, stating that he has by no means had any issues with the Pakistani army, the principle powerbroker within the nation, with whom he has had main variations previously.
His path to a different potential prime minister was cleared after his foremost political rival, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, was barred from collaborating within the election as a result of a conviction in a corruption case.
Khan is at present in jail serving a number of sentences for a sequence of convictions, however he had urged his voters to ensure they got here out on election day.
Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) additionally had its celebration image withdrawn from the ECP, however nonetheless managed to discipline unbiased candidates in a coordinated marketing campaign.
Earlier within the day, former International Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the Pakistan Individuals's Social gathering (PPP) voted within the province of Sindh, the place the PPP is especially sturdy. The PPP will hope to spring a shock and defy predictions by rising victorious.
Earlier than voting started at 8 am (03:00 GMT), the federal government introduced the suspension of cellular companies throughout the nation, citing safety considerations.
Nonetheless, there have been a number of bomb blasts through the day, which killed at the very least 9 folks within the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the southwestern province of Balochistan.
This adopted two bombs in Balochistan on Wednesday within the electoral workplaces of two candidates, which resulted within the dying of at the very least 27 folks.
After the shut of the elections, interim Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar mentioned in a press release that the elections had been a “momentous event”.
Kakar additionally praised the passion of the folks of Pakistan and expressed appreciation for his or her participation within the voting course of. “The excessive voter turnout is a transparent indication of the general public's dedication to shaping the way forward for our nation,” he mentioned. Nonetheless, experiences emerged from throughout the nation that voter turnout had been subdued through the day.
Pakistan has traditionally seen low voter turnout in elections. Since 1985, it has exceeded 50 p.c solely twice: in 2013 (54 p.c) and 2018 (51 p.c).
Of the 128 million folks registered to vote this yr, greater than 45 p.c of them are between the ages of 18 and 35. Based on electoral statistics, since 1997, voter turnout from 18 to 30 years by no means exceeded 40 p.c, reaching 40 p.c. a excessive of 37 p.c in 2018.
As voting started in Pakistan on Thursday morning, all eyes had been on PTI supporters. With a state crackdown on the celebration since Could and now Khan's incarceration, celebration supporters had vowed to reply by means of their votes.
Nonetheless, at greater than a dozen polling stations that Al Jazeera visited by 3pm, principally in middle-income and working-class localities in Lahore, voter enthusiasm appeared low. At a polling station within the Mochi Gate space the place practically 1,400 voters had been registered, lower than 250 turned up.
“I’ve performed election duties previously, and it has by no means been this unhappy,” ECP official Mohammed Ashfaq instructed Al Jazeera.
Many complaints emerged from Karachi, the nation's largest metropolis, the place voters mentioned polling workers at numerous polling stations had been absent and in lots of locations voting didn’t begin on time, beginning till 3pm (10:00 GMT).
“That is my third try and vote immediately. I got here within the morning. There was nobody there. All of the rooms had been empty. I got here early within the afternoon, and the rooms had been empty and the voting cubicles weren’t arrange. A folks had been going backwards and forwards making an attempt to determine which room to go in. It was a nightmare,” Elhaam Shaikh, 35, instructed Al Jazeera.
Whereas the ECP blocked the nation's polls, voters Al Jazeera spoke to appeared divided between the PTI and PML-N.
Ayesha Siddiqua, a instructor in Lahore, mentioned she had been a fan of Imran Khan all her life and would vote for him no matter what different events needed to provide.
“I've been following him since his cricket days after which the most cancers hospital he constructed,” he instructed Al Jazeera after casting his vote in Lahore. “For me, it might't damage.” Khan constructed a most cancers hospital in Lahore in 1994 named after his mom, who died of the illness in 1985.
One other voter, Khalid Taimur, a tour information in Lahore, mentioned his vote was reserved for the PML-N supremo.
“Nawaz Sharif gave us roads, buses, trains. He gave us infrastructure initiatives that helped the lives of frequent folks. His legacy is his work, which speaks for itself,” the 52-year-old instructed Al Jazeera , after the vote.
In Baluchistan, ladies's voter turnout has been low in comparison with the remainder of the nation. Tribal traditions within the province typically function a deterrent to ladies transferring in public.
Pakistan's electoral physique mentioned if the whole feminine participation in any constituency was lower than 10 p.c of the whole votes, it may order a brand new vote there.
“If the whole variety of ladies voters in a constituency stays under 10% of the whole votes, the Election Fee of Pakistan, in keeping with legislation, can cancel the vote in that constituency and order re-election,” mentioned the election watchdog. in a message on X, previously generally known as Twitter, a day earlier than the elections.
– Election Fee of Pakistan (OFFICIAL)🇵🇰 (@ECP_Pakistan) February 7, 2024
Muteeba Naz, 21, got here to forged her first vote in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan. “The subsequent authorities's precedence needs to be inflation and terrorism as a result of yesterday, greater than two dozen folks had been killed in Balochistan,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
With the nation coping with an economic system in disaster and a risky safety state of affairs with greater than 1,000 folks killed final yr in assaults, many Pakistanis are trying on the elections with the hope that they may produce a authorities able to bringing some stability to the nation of 241. million folks.
However analysts have warned that the subsequent authorities might wrestle to realize legitimacy due to Khan's vacation spot. And with out the belief of the folks of Pakistan, they warned, the subsequent prime minister might wrestle to take steps to assist the nation grapple with its myriad challenges.
Further reporting by Alia Chughtai in Karachi, Saadullah Akhter in Quetta and Islam Gul Afridi in Peshawar